Car dealerships across Delaware Valley move to online sales amid pandemic

Car dealerships in Pennsylvania can now conduct online sales.

New and used car dealerships across Pennsylvania employ more than 100,000 employees, so it is good news at least some of those workers will be able to get back to their jobs while customers can get the transportation they need. But the process will be anything but normal.

Stephen and Megan Nichols are the proud owners of a new Hyundai Tuscon from Lehigh Valley Hyundai.

"So we had a loaner to get to know the car. From there, there was an online process, they walked us through the paperwork," Nichols said. "Went today to pick up the car, easy three-step process. I've never done anything simpler in my life."

They said dealership employees are taking proper safety precautions.

"We're able to sign electronically the paperwork so that when we went into the dealership today, it was all laying out in a paper," he said. "They kept their distance even called us on our cell phones as we were there signing the papers to say, 'We're here if you need us to walk through the process with you.'"

Being able to sell online is a relief to the local industry.

"It's been devastated. March sales are down 60 to 65% from the previous March," said Kevin Mazzucola, of the Auto Dealer Association of Greater Philadelphia.

That's the slump in sales in southeastern Pennsylvania. Nationally, the United States is projected to see the lowest volume of sales since 2010 as the industry emerged from the Great Recession.

"It's had a drastic effect on the automobile industry," Mazzucola said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, car dealers in all three states in our region were prohibited from selling because it was considered a non-essential business. But at the end of March, that changed such that dealers in Delaware and New Jersey were able to conduct online or remote sales. Now, with Governor Tom Wolf's order this week, Pennsylvania dealers can do the same.

"Major dealerships are all putting in place and sanitation processes," explained Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports deputy editor.

But you can't go to a showroom to see and touch and taking a set of wheels for a test drive is a bigger challenge.

"A lot of dealerships are offering to not only clean the car, but they can even bring the car to you. This is a great comfort and convenience during this time," Bartlett said.

Car companies are boosting their online sales programs. Ford is reportedly rewarding dealers who participate in remote sales and home delivery. And General Motors increased its "Shop, Click, Drive" program, which launched six years ago.

But car dealers are cautiously optimistic, saying online sales won't make up for the loss in revenue.
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